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18 trappers sought for Hebrides to protect birds from hedgehogs

Scottish Natural Heritage is recruiting 18 new trappers to help in the continuing drive against hedgehogs on the islands of North Uist and Benbecula.

Scottish Natural Heritage is recruiting 18 new trappers to help in the continuing drive against hedgehogs on the islands of North Uist and Benbecula.

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The workers, who will be employed for 11 weeks, will be trying to capture the hedgehogs to help protect breeding waders and allow them to successfully raise their clutches of eggs.

However, they will no longer be dispatching their hedgehogs with legal injections. In 2007, SNH suspended its cull of the animals that had caused international outrage. Instead, the animals are now relocated to the mainland.

Eradication started in 2003 and 690 hedgehogs were killed in SNH's attempts to combat the devastating effect they were having on lapwings, snipe and redshank. But, in addition, more than 1000 have been relocated to date, including those caught by volunteers trying to save them from SNH's syringes.

Outlining the progress made by SNH's Uist Wader Project to date, a spokesman said: "The work first started in 2003 with four searchers using high-powered spot lamps to locate hedgehogs in North Uist. Five years later, the work now covers the original search areas on North Uist and all of Benbecula.

"The search methods now predominantly involve setting live traps with spot lamping restricted to certain areas away from habitation. The use of technology is a key aspect of the work with all field workers using GPS units and collected data recorded in a database to include trap positions and any animals caught in the trap.

"This database, along with a custom-built population model, is used to help to interpret the data and plan the field work operations as efficiently and effectively as possible."

He added: "The project is grateful to the crofters of Uist who have allowed access to their land and provide much-appreciated hospitality to the fieldworkers. In previous years we have seen people come from all over the world to help the project - Canada, New Zealand, Germany, South Africa, America, and Wales, Ireland, England, Scotland and, of course, Uist itself. The ones who do not live here all leave with fond memories of the islands and often return."

According to SNH, the new staff will need to be in good shape in order to cover the rough terrain. In a typical day they will walk more than 10 miles in conditions that can range from hail storms to beating sun. They will be paid £7.50 or £8.50 an hour depending on seniority, and there will be other benefits.

"The successful applicants will be rewarded by some of Europe's finest scenery and species compete with flowering machair, lapwing and oystercatcher, while they cross bogs and moorland and perhaps catch a glimpse of short-eared owls and red deer," a spokesman said.

Sarah Prall first worked on the project in 2007 as a field worker and then as a senior field worker in 2008. She said: "It is great work to be doing in the spring on Uist as it gets you out and about in the countryside and you can meet lots of people. It's physically demanding but really rewarding."

Hedgehogs were introduced to South Uist in the 1970s by a homeowner seeking to control garden pests. There are now estimated to be over 5000 on South Uist, Benbecula and North Uist. When the latter two of the islands are cleared, the project will focus on South Uist where most are located. Some £210,000 will be spent in this financial year and the same amount in the next one.

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